Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, October 31, 2011

Medical Pain Management

When it comes to pain management and doctors who prescribe adequate painkillers for their patients there isn't a whole lot to say in praise of doctors in general. Most doctors appear to feel that the opioids and other drugs to be prescribed for their patients suffering continual pain may make them responsible for the potential of patients becoming habituated to the pain-killers and hugely dependent on the drugs' addictive properties.

So the end result is that doctors tend to be overly cautious and people who suffer pain from all manner of sources simply continue suffering. Very few doctors are conscious of their responsibilities to their patients in this regard, and those few who are, tend to become specialists in pain management. They become dedicated to the struggle to aid people, and in so doing become their champions, while chiding their colleagues for not feeling compelled to pay greater attention.

And then there are those physicians who are overworked and exhausted and careless about the prescriptions they write for patients who take advantage of such opportunities, using prescribed medications for themselves, and the 'extras' that they are able to coerce out of the system for re-sale on the street where they're in high demand.

Doctors are held responsible for prescribing medications for their patients because they're the health professionals and as such cognizant of which drugs can be useful in particular circumstances. In prescribing those drugs they are assuring their patients that they know what is in their best interests. And should anything go awry they are held to be responsible but not really charged with that responsibility. (Personalities like Michael Jackson aside.)

So why it is that doctors have suddenly become nervous about Health Canada deciding to make doctors responsible for prescribing and monitoring the effects of medical marijuana, behaving as though they wouldn't want to touch it with a ten-foot pole? Isn't it the responsibility of any medical practitioner to monitor the progress of their patients for whom they've prescribed medication?

Why would medical marijuana be any different? Since it has been accepted as a proven aid in regulating pain in some people, and legally prescribed, it's hard to see why doctors are so nervous about its use and monitoring. After all, the bureaucrats at Health Canada cannot monitor patients; it is in actual fact the responsibility of individual physicians to do so in the best interests of their patients.

If doctors fear they may be exposing themselves to potential legal action because suddenly patients will view them as the fount of legal marijuana use, it seems common sense to prescribe it as and when required, not at random, not merely because a patient requests it, but because background medical checks make it a feasible option as a pain-control method.

Doctors authorize through writing prescriptions all manner of drugs and medications, not all of them without serious potential side effects. They weigh the risks against the obvious and proven gains to be had for each patient reflecting their particular needs and medical history.

What should be happening, as a reassurance and indeed a necessity, is that Health Canada continue funding research in the long-term effects of marijuana use. As with the use of any drug protocol, more could be known about the effectiveness, the mechanics of the interaction with the human body, and the potential long-time complications, should any exist.

There are those who argue that smoking anything is inimical to one's health, and there's truth to that. But if we're talking about living with unforgiving, unrelenting pain, and taking steps to ease that kind of pain, then we're also talking about trade-offs. And surely people have the right to make decisions for themselves and their quality of life in that respect.

To give the official line that this is the type of thing that pharmaceutical companies do and to leave it to them, is patently absurd when we're talking about marijuana, since there's no gain, no profit for drug companies in investigating its usefulness nor any possible side effects into the future.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Natural Disaster Escapees

It's pretty miserable to live right within our environment. Which is to say without the distance humankind has achieved over the millennia by building for itself separations between the exterior and the interiors which we have so long inhabited. When exterior forces impel themselves upon the comfort of our living interiors our peace of mind is dreadfully disturbed, to say the least. And havoc is visited upon human settlements when the environment which we strive so forcefully to control lifts itself out of our illusion of control.

Which is what has been occurring in Thailand with steadily rising floodwaters erupting within Bangkok's outskirts, swallowing up fields, farms, suburban homes and buildings. The discomfort and fear that people have been suffering is a misery beyond description. Everything familiar has been turned upside down and inside out. Homes have become inhabitable, and people have had to flee the floodwaters in the hopes they will soon be able to return.

Hundreds of people have been killed as a result of the environmental disaster. The hope is that the waters will soon recede and things return to normal. Because of the flooding there has been a forced stoppage of industry with factories also impacted by the floodwaters. The cost to the economy has been enormous as production plants have been forced to shut down.

And then, there's the issue of the flooded environment impacting in other ways. Crocodiles from hundreds of farms have been loosed within this new flooded environment. Both crocodiles and venomous snakes are known to have infiltrated areas that were formerly settled suburbs, now inundated by slowly receding floodwaters.

Reward money has been posted for crocodiles captured and brought in live, encouraging bounty hunters to go hunting for them in their boats. Once captured the crocodiles are tied securely with ropes and hauled out of their watery hideouts. Professional catchers are skilled in the trade, using electric cattle prods to shock the reptiles and patience to accomplish the capture.

The idea is not to harm the beasts, but to haul them in to restore them to the farms that rear them. They're a valuable resource, apparently, in response to worldwide demand for crocodile hides to be used in shoes and handbags.

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Just Simply Inconvenient

Who might have imagined when it all began that the OWS contingent - camping out to send their message of indignation and aggrievement over the unequal share of wealth growing more acute by the day - would have to face an adversary they could not possibly spar with. The environment has been performing some fairly peculiar stunts in the last several years. Among which has been phenomenal weather, let alone cataclysmic upheavals on the Earth's crust.

Who might have imagined that before the end of the usually stolid month of October a weather event of the like that hadn't been seen in almost one-and-a-half centuries would impact on parts of North America? Leaving millions of people wondering what on Earth is going on, as they struggle to get along at this time of year without electricity in the aftermath of an odd storm system that dumped inches of now and downed power lines from parts of the U.S. to Canada.

In New York City where the Occupy Wall Street social phenomenon had its birth, those camping out in tents without the comfort of those confiscated generators and fuel are facing a most uncomfortable sit-in (tent-in). Authorities would dearly like them to leave, their message having been received, but the protest occupiers would prefer to stay, to remain a living thorn in the side of Wall Streeters.

Of course they now have their counterpart 'occupy' groups all over the world. Mostly young people, many unemployed, but all smarting at the unfairness of a world that divides the have-nots from the have-much, with those that have far too much simply accelerating their wealth. At a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty world-wide, that message has gained wide sympathy.

Peaceful protests, assembly, speech and gatherings such as the OWS are permissible in societies that guarantee their citizens those rights. But the protests are beginning to resemble a weeping sore that refuses to heal; interesting at first, annoying as hell finally, with the majority of people not involved in the protests feeling they should disperse, message delivered.

Delivered perhaps, but nothing of any substance achieved. Other than to discommode themselves and in the doing destroy public property and propriety with the heedlessness of their chosen priorities, righteous and just but just simply inconvenient.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sue For Recompense

One physician, operating her own clinic laboratory, able to wreak such havoc upon a community. Her lax oversight of those whom she employed has been responsible for thousands of former patients who had undergone a number of routine medical investigative procedures to have been hugely inconvenienced. Let alone that these trusting people were caused great concern.

People ordinarily assume that when they're attending a medical clinic that it is routine that all medical investigative tools and surgical instruments undergo sterilization to ensure that no pathogens are carried forward from one patient to another. The transmission of germs, bacteria and potentially lethal diseases is readily enough accomplished without neutralizing their capacities to infect.

It is understandably awkward for people to question health professionals with respect to the level of expected hygiene and safety standards practised by them. No one wants to offend someone who is a respected medical professional, particularly for fear of creating a situation where that individual may be less than professional in subsequent treatment of their condition.

Even health professionals themselves have confessed to feeling awkward and uncomfortable in questioning members of their own profession when they themselves must undergo treatment. Yet the public is encouraged to emphatically do so on their own behalf. And to possibly raise the ire of someone who doesn't appreciate having his/her medical-health credentials and integrity questioned.

In a routine investigation of the Carling Avenue endoscopy clinic operated by Dr. Christiane Farazil, it was found that technicians had inadequately and routinely failed to observe proper cleansing techniques when using medical equipment. Thus, potentially placing patients at risk of exposure to Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus, and/or HIV; all infectious, reportable, high-risk diseases.

Ottawa Public Health's medical officer of health, Dr. Isra Levy, was placed in the position of having to investigate the public health implications of the situation, and compelled by his mandate to mail letters to patients, and to staff a dedicated information line to cope with the crisis. It was repeatedly stated, reassuringly, that the potential for infection was extremely low.

That assurance did little to reassure people who were horror-struck by the news that a fairly routine health procedure they had undergone up to a decade earlier, might have placed them in danger of becoming HIV-positive. And while the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons is investigating Dr. Farazil, she may legally continue practising.

This careless practitioner, solely responsible for the high state of anxiety that so many people in Ottawa were exposed to, through the laxity of hygiene procedures to ensure no transmission of grim diseases could occur, still has privileges at Montfort Hospital. Her clinic has been closed, but she may continue working at an approved facility with qualified staff.

Her gross mismanagement of her clinic has cost the public $750,000. A sum difficult to credit. But attributed to the need to investigate the laboratory clinic, send out mailed notifications, and staff a dedicated information line. How these seemingly simple yet emergency procedures could end up costing the public almost a million dollars is mystifying, and infuriating.

If Dr. Farazil has practise insurance, as indeed she surely must have, she should be sued through her insurance, for precisely that amount.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

For Disgraceful Conduct

Well, that's pretty pathetic. Can't be certain whether it is that people never cease to amaze themselves by the truly witless things they get up to, or whether it is that people are so subsumed by themselves that they never fail to amaze the public which occasionally gets to hear or read about these really profoundly absurd and infantile things that people commit to.

One might imagine that a man with 30 years' experience as an RCMP officer, with an excellent record as a law and order, security professional would have better things to think about than exposing himself lewdly in a video, and then sending it on to someone with whom he had been having an long-distance affair.

In his defence, those who stood in judgement of him as professionals themselves hastened to note that the man was undergoing some level of emotional strain as his marriage was collapsing. That might be acceptable by some who have super-forgiving natures, as an explanation of how and why someone might become so emotionally berserk as to commit such juvenile pranks.
"In this video, S/Sgt. Matthews, while partially dressed in his RCMP uniform, is seen performing a striptease, exposing his genitals and performing sexual acts. This was done [in his office] and outside of normal working hours. S/Sgt. Matthews admits that he used RCMP IT equipment to record sexually explicit materials and that he engaged in sexual activity at his workplace."
At a disciplinary hearing held in August, it was revealed that Staff Sergeant Ronald Matthews of the RCMP had used a force-issued computer to download, view and store adult pornographic material. He admitted to disgraceful conduct, under an internal charge that falls under the RCMP Act. He also used his RCMP-issued BlackBerry to send sexually explicit messages to his then-girlfriend.

And, he sent to his then-girlfriend the strip-tease video that he had produced for her titillation and pleasure, adding to his own pleasure and titillation. Squalid, demeaning, a miserable act of stupidity. For which behaviour he has expressed remorse, claiming himself to have been embarrassed. For which activity he was disciplined with the most severe penalty to be meted out, short of dismissal.

"The member sincerely apologized and regretted his actions. He indicated the embarrassment he has caused the force and deeply feels the shame he has brought upon himself", reads the internal affairs file on this case. And, in view of Staff Sgt. Matthews' up-to-then exemplary record of service, and as one respected by his peers and supervisors, he was found "fit for duty", and fined ten days of pay.

For disgraceful conduct.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Living Luxuriously Well

It's among the tiniest of African nations. A country that has ample natural resources. And if the country were ruled by anyone other than the usual African dictator it might be assured that a good proportion of the population might be able to live with some degree of comfort. But such is not the case in Equatorial Guinea. It is an impoverished nation of 680,000 people, 70% of whom live in utter want and deprivation.

A large percentage of the country has no access to electricity, no access to potable water, according to the African Development Bank. But it does have natural resources such as oil, gas and timber. And the wealth that does accrue to the country through the exploitation of those resources has been put to what the U.S. Justice Department feels is the enrichment of its dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of Equatorial Guinea. And his family and cronies.

There is that about Africa and its many countries; far too few are governed fairly and in due consideration of the peoples' needs. Of the 52 countries in that continent there is constant unrest due to tribal and clan unrest, the depredations upon the public of too many of those countries by their rulers, dictators, tyrants, through civil war and inter-country wars, challenges for natural resources and graft and corruption lining the pockets of the rulers.

Contrast the dire poverty of that 70% of the population with the entitled, grandiloquent manner in which the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea lives. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue set off to the United States in 1991 at 23 years of age to study English in Malibu, California at Pepperdine University. He dropped out of college after 5 months but remained in California.

And there he availed himself of pricey real estate. Living like a potentate, the scion of a grasping tyrant whose people languish, their needs ignored. But he was appointed minister of forestry and agriculture in his father's government. And latterly appointed to represent his country at UNESCO. He has spent an estimated $100-million on a Malibu mansion, Michael Jackson memorabilia, a private jet and a stable of high-end cars and speed-boats.

Mr. Obiang latterly moved his luxury sports cars and motorcycles (valued at $400,000) to France, from Los Angeles. His private jet is parked somewhere in Equatorial Guinea. The "mega Yacht" he ordered designed for him by a German company worth $380-million represented three times what Equatorial Guinea spends on health and education annually.

These, of course, are the impoverished African countries quick to claim their humanitarian due from the United Nations funded by the wealthy countries of the world. Financial assistance from the West that goes directly into the pockets of corrupt, sociopathic dictators.

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Legion Monopoly

Doesn't seem like a very nice observation, but it does appear that the Royal Canadian Legion is a grumpy bully. A symbol of caring remembrance that has world-wide recognition and which is respected and used internationally as a memento of the sacrifices that military men and women have made in the pursuit of democratic freedoms and liberty from despots and tyrants should be recognized as one to be freely shared by all who respect and value it.

Instead, the Royal Canadian Legion, that cranky old organization that insists on respect it withholds from others, is threatening once again to mount a legal suit against a group that has dared to use a tiny vestige of a poppy within a much more complex memorial used by the Canadian Veteran Freedom Riders, an Ottawa-based group of military veterans who have formed a motorcycle club among themselves.

Their logo, which has made an incidental use of the iconic poppy, appears on the back of leather vests worn by club members. The logo features the club's name and a large maple leaf. And ailhouetted against that leaf is the form of a soldier kneeling, holding a rifle balancing a helmet on the barrel. And upon that helmet is a poppy.

Horrors! Unauthorized use of the symbolic poppy and simply not to be countenanced. What's more, if it is not summarily removed, the club can be assured that the full force of copyright law will be brought to bear against them in a court of law. The Legion's appointed law firm is poised to act, having forwarded a warning to cease and desist, to the club.

The leader of the Canadian Veteran Freedom Riders, a former captain in the armed forces, is rather up in arms over the matter, and refuses to allow himself and the club to be bullied. "For me to be told that I can't wear a symbol that is known internationally ... is a slap in the face, it's an insult. I think it's heavy-handed by the Legion", said Michael Blow.

"I have no problem with the Legion selling the poppy or retaining the rights to sell the poppy. But they cannot tell veterans and others that they can't wear it." Ah, but the Legion feels otherwise, and feels vindicated in their perception, since under copyright law they may lawfully issue such cease-and-desist edicts.

They don't seem to care that they appear rather cranky and ill-tempered in this issue. They're in the business of revenue-collection as the acknowledged, lawful copyright owner.
"When they (people) become aware it is a trademark, we settle collegially ... in almost 98% of cases. There are some times when people don't agree and then the next step we have our lawyers send the copyright legislation and everything and advise them that here's the copyright provisions and policy and we go from there."
The Canadian Veteran Freedom Riders don't feel very collegial, given the circumstances of being brought up short, and ordered to remove that tiny, minuscule portion of their logo, meaningful to them and to all veterans, let alone the public at large. A use that is logical, emotionally satisfying to the group but which use the Legion seeks forcefully to deny them.

It puts a very ugly spin on the issue entirely. One feels somewhat less inclined to feel well disposed toward the Legion when it presents itself in such an uncompromising light. And Michael Blow, the former military man and current leader of the CVFR does garner sympathy when he declares: "I'm not going to apply for any use of the poppy. It's my right to wear it, as far as I'm concerned."

If anything, one might reasonably feel that as a veteran he has indeed earned that right.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Questioning Whose Principles?

Trust the ancient philosophers, they knew whereof they spoke. Plato, for example, held that politics was no place for men of conscience. Perhaps we could enlarge the eligible category and include women there, as well. It's a generalization of course, but given its source, obviously one that was given great and deep thought.

From the greatest heights of public executive administration, where highly respected Western leaders of enlightened democratic countries make their accommodation with tyrants and dictators who oppress their people and indulge in abysmal corruption, lining their pockets and those of their friends, while their people live in abject poverty, to the story appearing in today's newspaper.

And that might be about Frank Klees, MPP for Newmarket-Aurora. A (failed) runner-up for the leadership position of the Ontario Conservative party. Offered a position in his party's shadow cabinet post-election that left Ontario with a squeaker of a minority-majority, he has refused. He's done them all, all those positions, and he'd like to try something new.

He plans to run for speaker of the provincial parliament. Conventionally, we're informed, the Ontario speaker casts his votes with the government on confidence motions. And with Mr. Klees out of the Conservative caucus, both opposition parties combined are left with 53 seats, equalling that of the Liberals. Effectively handing a slim, minuscule 'majority' to the Liberals.

"To draw the conclusion ... that somehow this is confirming a majority for Dalton McGuinty is fundamentally wrong", Mr. Klees huffed indignantly. "While it's convention, a speaker would vote to maintain the status quo and to vote with the government, that is not a rule." He would be principled about it, you see.

"The speaker can vote based on what the speaker believes is the right thing to do", he explained. Now why don't his colleagues simply accept this in good faith and move on? Isn't it the reasonable thing to do? Particularly when you can't do anything about the choice he's made?

"We're surprised and disappointed that Frank has decided that this is a better approach for him in the assembly", Tim Hudak admitted. "Frank's made a decision. And Frank is Frank. We did our best as a team to encourage Frank to take on a couple of key critic portfolios, but Frank felt that his energies were best directed elsewhere."

Frankly, we'd be surprised if they weren't surprised. We'd also be surprised if they weren't disappointed. Since, as Mr. Hudak said realistically that Mr. Klees's considered decision to treat himself to something different - special and challenging, bearing in mind of course, his loyalty to his party and his colleagues there - would "certainly make our job more challenging".

How's that for the understatement of the week.

Mr. Klees says that he is "...one who has to believe that he's making a meaningful contribution in what he's doing". And a Liberal official, who declined to be named, said "Chances are we'll end up with a Liberal (speaker)".

Both scenarios at one and the same time equally high-principled and most certainly unlikely.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Credit Where It's Due...

You have to admire women for their capabilities in handling motherhood and a career both at one fell swoop. It takes extraordinary determination to do each one well, enormous capability plus resilience and resourcefulness to dedicate oneself to compellingly to do justice to both - being a mother and having a career.

The current president of La Cite collegiale - the largest French-language applied arts and technology college in Ontario - Lise Bourgeois, appears to be one of those super-charged women capable of taking on a multitude of tasks that lesser intellects would shrink at. Lise Bourgeois was born and raised in rural Ontario, attended a one-room French elementary school.

At age eighteen, she had already gained experience teaching a Grade 2 class. She had no university degree and didn't need one; background and academic training at that time were less important than the individual's capability to produce results. Nonetheless Lise Bourgeois decided she wanted to enhance her education and took night classes at University of Ottawa.

All this while she was raising two daughters, now adults in their 30s. At some point in her career trajectory she returned to university to acquire a master's degree. After which she spent 30 years at the French Catholic school board beyond the city of Ottawa, and then finally joined the Ottawa board in 2003.

An accomplished woman, a dedicated educator, one whose qualities were well recognized and her ambitions realized. Which makes it all the more dismal that this woman was seen by an off-duty RCMP officer, while driving an expensive vehicle, swerving all over the road. He called Ottawa police who then pulled the her over, at roughly 11:20 p.m. the night of October 18.

Her car was impounded then and there, while she refused to take a breathalyzer test. This is what she was charged with, released on a promise to appear in court at a later date. The La Cite collegiale board of directors is understandably concerned. It is surprising, to a good degree, that an intelligent, accomplished woman would drink heavily, then decide to drive a vehicle.

She will continue to perform her professional duties as president of the college for the time being. Once court proceedings are complete, that situation may be altered. However, she has been said to have assured the college that she is confident when all the facts are brought out in court, a successful conclusion will be reached.

Except that: How does one logically and credibly explain away such a dreadful set of circumstances, where with impaired judgement due to alcohol consumption, Lise Bourgeois, an excellent director of education confident in her own abilities as a capable and reliable professional made such a dreadful judgemental error.

An error, furthermore that did not, but might have, resulted in someone's death by vehicular homocide.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. President".

Pretty pathetic, isn't it? People with vast fame and popularity, not to mention wealth that has resulted from their fame and popularity never seem quite satisfied with what they have acquired. Having become rich and fabulously celebrated, they keep looking for more and even more. More opportunities to become better-acknowledged, and more generously remunerated.

People whom you might think are deserving of respect turn out to be personally insipid idiots. It started out innocently enough. When Hollywood actors in high regard and great demand decided they would discreetly accept handsome offers from celebrity-mad and extremely wealthy Japan to lend their famous names and faces to advertising campaigns.

Some accepted and reaped immense fees in the doing. Allowing their handsome and beautiful faces and forms to be used by public relations and advertising agencies whose clients were happy to pay these big-time celebrities to advertise products and services.

All of this remained discreetly within Japan. Until it began to leak out and personalities were embarrassed, and then it became a free-for-all; anyone who could get an offer would grab it. There was no dignity in the process, but after the initial hiccoughs no one seemed to really care.

And that seems to be a little like what's happened in the latest Hollywood Grade A crew who don't need a hand-up in fame and face-recognition, nor in the swelling of their bank accounts. Elton John, Hilary Swank, Sting - do they really need to add to their holdings? Will an appearance at the 35th birthday celebrations of a dictator of a repressed country burnish their reputations?

"Why not? It's a paying gig. Just like any paying gig. It's just another audience to play for, it's another specified revenue stream, just like playing casinos, playing fairs and playing festivals." Is that the height of cynicism, of broken values, of selling out for gain, whatever it costs in moral, ethical terms?

Good luck with that and "Happy birthday, Mr. President". Sounds like Marilyn Monroe snuggling up to Jack Kennedy.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pedestrian Events

A taxi cab with three people inside revved its engine, went up and over a grassy hill, smashed through a few tress while airborne, then crashed spectacularly into a parked BMW.

A taxi cab with three people inside revved its engine, went up and over a grassy hill, smashed through a few tress while airborne, then crashed spectacularly into a parked BMW.

Much of what we choose to do as we go about pursuing our daily lives, is built upon trust. Trust that is in the familiar. We trust that the elevator we walk into will deliver us to the floor we've punched in, without stalling between floors, and leaving us in deep trouble. We trust that the traffic lights we're obeying as pedestrians will also be obeyed by the motorists eager to gun it and get going in their busy days. We trust that the food we eat is free of bacterial contamination and won't make us ill.

And we trust that when we enter a taxi cab the driver is able to follow our instructions and deliver us safely to our destination. Sometimes incidents occur that inform us that in that particular instance our trust has been misplaced. Something extraordinary occurs, something quite out of the ordinary, something that no one could conceivably predict. On the other hand, perhaps it is predictable. In the sense that someone with a medical condition should not be driving a cab?

In Ottawa yesterday what is being termed by the paramedics who responded to the emergency 911 call as a "unique accident", might have taken the lives of two innocent people - three if one includes the taxi driver, but, thanks to marvellous good luck, did not. Two individuals hailed a cab. No sooner did the driver begin the journey with his fares than he experienced a seizure.

That seizure caused him to press his foot on the gas pedal, and the vehicle accelerated without a vestige of control. It went on a peculiar trajectory, actually leaving flat ground, becoming momentarily slightly airborne, crashing through a stand of trees to land upon a BMW parked in a driveway. The impact had flipped the BMW onto its roof and the taxi happened to land right-side up, on top of the overturned BMW.

"I've been doing this for 21 years now, and this was one call where I just had to do a double take", paramedic superintendent Paul Morneau said. "This is definitely one of those calls that is extremely interesting." Somewhat like that old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times", but without the grim consequences.

But landing the cab on top of the BMW didn't quite end the adventure. The driver, still in the throes of his seizure, kept his foot clamped down hard on the gas pedal as a result of which the tires spun continually, and became more and more sizzling hot, sending plumes of smoke out over the area. It was that smoke that alerted people, thinking there was a fire, sending off additional 911 calls.

Adding insult to injury to the owner of the BMW, he rushed out of the house he happened to be visiting in, and as he approached the scene, the left front tire of the taxi exploded, sending bits of tire, plastic and metal flying into his face. He suffered superficial injuries, remarkable in itself. And the injuries suffered by the other three were also slight; the driver and the passengers came out of the ordeal quite well.

The taxi driver was the only one taken to hospital. Presumably for stabilization of his medical condition for which he had a prescription. Some drive that was. Makes you think perhaps a little more carefully - for all of 60 seconds - about entrusting your life to ordinary, everyday, pedestrian events.

Sometimes, in fact, you're safer on foot.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Pure Madness, Perhaps"

One might think that being a bank manager in a small Ontario town, with all the perquisites that come with it, is an enviable place to be in. Just think of it, the salary, the prestige, the public trust. The admiration and respect that a woman has earned through her personal capability as she sits at the local bank as its manager. She manages the employees, the bank's financial transactions, the reputation of the bank branch.

She makes an excellent salary, with outstanding benefits. She is, of course, under pressure because in that kind of elevated position of earned prestige one is held to be responsible for the smooth running of the bank, its proceeds and profits. You can take all of that to the bank, literally. So what happens when a woman is emotionally distraught when her personal, private life is not proceeding on the smooth path one might envision for a successful businesswoman?

She becomes vulnerable to restless nights with inadequate sleep, resulting in poor decision-making. Most people, however, don't quite succumb to decision-making of the extremely poor calibre that France Maurice, past manager of Hawkesbury's CIBC branch descended to. Making an ill-considered pact with family members who were criminally inclined to enrich themselves by pursuing avenues to ill gain.

Seeking to console herself over her upset private life by consorting with criminals whose intent she knew very well was to assault the very principles of law and order a bank manager and a citizen in good standing ordinarily subscribed to. She became their unprincipled, in-the-know advisor. Who would know better than she which bank customers were in the habit of maintaining loose cash around their homes to make home invasions profitable?

Who would know better than the manager of the bank which of the bank's safes held a substantial amount of cash, and to select it, rather than one that had been drained of ready cash? Who would know other than herself when an armoured car cash delivery was to be made? All this handy information and more was divulged to those of her extended family absorbed in the fun and games of accessing finances not their own.

Everyone, in retrospect, looking back on what results as a consequence from bad, really bad decision-making, becomes contrite. Becomes horribly saddened by what an indescribable mess they've made of their lives. Particularly when they're faced with the inescapable fact that they have been judged and found wanting, and that they must now pay a debt to society for their criminal offence.

Overlooked is the shattering of peoples' trust. That she enabled violence-prone people to have access to the homes of bank clients who had no reason not to trust her is unforgivable. She was, in effect, the instrument of knowledge that led violent criminals to the homes of those they felt would enrich them, and in the process of their criminal acts they not only robbed, but they physically injured their victims.

Ms. Maurice's three children will miss their mother while she is incarcerated. They will learn a lesson they shouldn't have had to be exposed to, that criminal behaviour has very serious consequences.

Their mother should logically have been aware of that simple formula long ago.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Sound Verdict

Justice is done and was seen to be done in the case of van-driving Sommit Luangpakham who claimed to have momentarily nodded off to sleep as the explicable reason that he plowed into five cyclists on a beautiful, bright July week-end morning, sending them all into dangerous physical trauma. The windshield of his van was smashed after he impacted one of the riders so badly she was thrown up onto his van and strands of her hair and her blood deeply ingrained in the smashed glass.

Mr. Luangpakham was so oblivious to having hit the five cyclists in quick succession, one after the other, strewing their bicycles and their bleeding, broken bodies all over the road, that it was his impression he had merely, he said, hit a post. And therefore, he simply proceeded on, and continued driving until he reached his house, a short distance away. Whereupon, he drove the damaged vehicle halfway into the packed garage, so the front could not be viewed.

"I am relieved that the truth came out and that the result was the result and that it can be over, and I don't really feel one way or the other any anger or anything like that. I just don't have room for that, I guess", said a relieved Cathy Anderson, post-verdict. "I don't actually wish anything. It won't affect our lives. Our lives for the most part have been devastated by this. I have to leave that up to the justice system because they know far better than I do what is appropriate in this case."

Cyclist Mark White was struck by the lack of remorse evidenced on the part of Summit Luangpakham who implacably insisted that he hadn't realized he had struck people, not an inanimate object.
"(The trial) has lifted a great weight from my heart that my family and I have been bearing since my friends and I were struck down by the criminal negligence of one man, a man who has not shown any remorse for his reactions and who gambled his life and the lives of others by recklessly getting behind the wheel that morning and then fleeing the scene in an attempt to escape accountability for his criminal negligence."
Mr. Luangpakham had been out at a party with a group of friends. It was an all-night party where liquor was consumed, although Mr. luangpakham insisted he had not had any liquor himself. Despite that the arresting officers detected the odour of stale liquor on his breath. One of the cyclists, Robert Wein, had suffered the worst injuries, and though partially recovered has been left with a brain injury; it was thought at the time of the accident he might not recover, that his injuries would result in his death. He now gets about with the help of a walker.

"The jury did their job, and the prosecutor did a very good job proving the guilt. The testimony was eye-opening because it was mostly first-time information for me. I tried to disassociate myself from it, but it was hard when I saw the pictures", Mr. Wein added.

The verdict was a necessary one. Necessary to assure cyclists that harm done them by drivers not alert to their vulnerability and that due caution must be taken at all times, was taken seriously, as it needed to be. Due caution, in fact, must be taken by both drivers and cyclists. And the verdict is a required warning to all other motorists who don't take that need for caution around cyclists seriously enough.

After a seven-hour deliberation the verdict came down, guilty on five counts each of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and failing to stop at the scene of the collision. As an object lesson in choosing inappropriately, in accountability and in applying society's condemnation for harmfully illegal acts, this represents a just verdict.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

That Problem Solved

The picture of a rebel, a societal misfit, someone who chose to surround himself - and just incidentally his helpless, hapless neighbours as well - with his selection of exotic wild animals, thanks to notoriously lax animal-welfare laws in the State of Ohio. A man whose exploits certainly did not endear him to his neighbours, rounded up animals within his 73-acre farm in eastern Ohio. These were not just any animals, cute and cuddly, exotic and colourful.

Among them were black bears, grizzlies, lions, Bengal tigers, wolves, baboons, leopards; huge beasts which cannot have been too comfortable living on a farm in Ohio. As such animals would seek to do, some from time to time escaped the confines of the enclosures they were maintained in. The natural and the physical environment would certainly not have been conducive to solace for animals taken such a far distance from all that might have been familiar to them.

There were many complaints lodged against their owner, Terry Thompson, related to animals escaping their confines and claims of abuse and maltreatment. One particularly unsavoury complaint was that the man neglected the horses he owned, failed to adequately nourish them, and finally simply fed them to his lions when the horses died of starvation. Despite which the Muskingum County Animal Shelter said he met the bare minimum requirements for keeping the animals.

Mr. Thompson's long-suffering neighbours could do nothing about their misfortune to be living close by this man with his menagerie of potentially dangerous wild animals. His wife left him, and he was said to have become depressed. Certainly something caused him to commit suicide, though he left no explanatory note. He did, however, before he took his life, unpen all his animals, leaving them free to do whatever they would.

They must surely have been confused and uncertain. At a neighbour's 911 call upon seeing animals roaming about, police discovered Mr. Thompson's body, surrounded by animals. An attempt was initially made to shoot some of the animals with tranquilizer guns, but that attempt failed. The entire community went into lockdown mode, with schools closed and signs erected on the highway to warn motorists that wild animals were at large and to proceed with caution.

In the end, authorities killed 48 of the 56 animals that Terry Thompson had acquired and cared for. One lion was killed when it was struck by a vehicle on a highway, and a monkey was caught and eaten by another lion. Among those killed were tigers, black bears, grizzlies and 17 lions and Bengal tigers. The animals were buried on the farm. Those that survived were taken to the Columbus Zoo; three leopards, a grizzly and two macaque monkeys.

"We've handled numerous complaints there, we've done numerous inspections here. So this has been a huge problem for us for a number of years", explained the county Sheriff, Matt Lutz. Unspeakably sad that eighteen endangered Bengal tigers had to be shot, along with all the other animals who posed a threat to the community.

Incredible that an individual could be permitted to assemble such a wide range of dangerous wild animals, for his personal pleasure or whatever it was that drove the man to acquire them and control them. Clearly the laws governing animal ownership and the conditions under which they are kept should be re-visited and upgraded for the protection of both man and beast.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Painful Lesson Learned - Painfully

At risk of being identified as homophobic people who find gay 'marriage' a strikingly peculiar and off-putting prospect, and must keep their perceptions about the absurdity of 'marriage' between two people of like gender to themselves. Similarly, the absolutely ludicrous practise of one of the pair referring to the other as their 'wife', or their 'husband', or their 'spouse' seems like self-mockery, at the very least, if it weren't for the fact that these identity nomenclatures are taken quite seriously.

And so, when someone like me who has never, ever had a wish to discriminate against someone whose sexual orientation is not the same as mine, looks askance at the action of two men in lodging a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal over their failed attempt to book at a Grand Forks, B.C. bed-and-breakfast, feels this to be an unsupportable action, it's clear I risk being labelled homophobic. So be it. But calling it so doesn't make it so.

The overt and societally nasty discrimination against homosexuals that prevailed within society decades ago was despicable. The harm that was visited upon gays, upon the transgendered, whose sexual orientation so infuriated 'straights' was sheer criminality. That in Canada the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was altered to reflect and recognize the rights of gays to be equal with those of all other Canadians under the law was an advance that was past due.

But there will always remain those within any society who will insist on practising their own very special brand of discrimination. It is human nature to focus on those who are in some way different than what is considered the prevailing norm. A gradual and welcome shift away from that discriminatory focus by de-legitimizing it within the social contract usually just leaves the hard-core haters.

And those hard-core racists or discriminators will hide behind their particular brand of religion, or ideology, or just secularly-obnoxious bigotry irrespective of legally enshrined protections and society's turn toward understanding and acceptance, in any event. But people are entitled to their beliefs. And they are most certainly entitled to make decisions about who they will welcome into their homes or their private businesses.

When it comes to intolerance, the outspoken portion of the gay community is not much of an improvement over those who have in the past, and who continue in their own way, to discriminate against them. Their flamboyant insistence on being noticed, that their overt differences be celebrated through attendance at Gay Pride parades, simply identifies too many of the gay community as juvenile.

Most heterosexuals prefer to keep their sex practises to themselves. Sexual relations are a private matter, not to be flaunted and exhibited for the direct purpose of bringing notice. And certainly not for one group to directly challenge another by public exhibitionism. For many people to witness two men passionately embracing is an embarrassment they could live without. And many will not applaud the raunchy, sexually-explicit antics of gays during Gay Pride.

And when Les and Susan Molnar, past owners of Riverbed Bed and Breakfast recoiled in distaste when they were asked to facilitate a stay-over at their B&B for Shaun Eadie and Brian Thomas, who attempted to book a single-bed bedroom at the B&B, it was their right to do so. Messrs. Eadie and Thomas were understandably offended at the rebuff, but ours is a free society.

They had the option of looking elsewhere for accommodation. And the owners of the B&B exercised their privilege and entitlement in a free society to decide whom they would allow into their home, to use the facilities that they operated for private gain out of that home. To drag this couple through a human rights tribunal is vindictively petty and unnecessary and serves no purpose other than to salve hurt feelings.

Because of the umbrage they took, and their determination to force a couple who claim their religion supported their refusal to welcome a gay couple to their establishment, in asserting that their human rights have been violated, they have violated the human rights of others. It does work both ways, something that appears to have escaped their notice.

This couple, the Molnars, who operated the B&B establishment, had invested in extensive renovations of their business. In the follow-up of the lodging of the human rights complaint by Shaun Eadie and Brian Thomas, Les and Susan Molnar decided to leave the business of welcoming people into their home to others.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guilty As Charged

On the surface it sounds plausible, but delve below the facade and it more or less falls apart. Simply put, one wants to believe others when they declare their innocence of intent to do harm to others. We instinctively would like to believe them, preferring that to thinking ill of others. But the evidence before the court is such that it seems indisputable that Sommit Luangpakham failed miserably in his obligations to others in society when he was operating a motor vehicle.

He was impaired. His judgement at that point was not in question, if he fell asleep at the wheel. It was his earlier judgement, in attending an all-night party with friends, who imbibed, though he claims he did not, despite the arresting officers testifying to their indelible impression gained through years of experience that he had indeed taken alcohol some hours earlier. Either the alcohol impaired his responses or the fact that he had fallen asleep at the wheel caused him to crash into five cyclists, one after the other.

In either event, whichever happens to be the catalyzing factor in his having driven into a bicycle lane on a clear, sunny, beautiful morning in July where he drove directly into five cyclists, injuring them horribly, he seems clearly to have been guilty as he was charged. He claims he was unaware he had hit someone; his impression once the impact awoke him from his momentary lapse into sleep was that he had hit a post. It would have been beyond his imagination to believe he had struck anyone, he claimed.

Despite which, he had struck something. Wouldn't most responsible people have stopped their vehicle, gotten out of it to survey the scene? To determine precisely what it was they had struck? He claims that had he known he'd hit a human being he would have stopped immediately to offer assistance. Clearly, he was anxious to depart the scene and had no interest in determining exactly what had occurred, if he wasn't aware of what had happened at the moment of impact. The impact itself was not singular; he hit five people sequentially.

And while his lawyer claims that given the circumstances that his client describes and his relative innocence in the matter, other than as an instrument of an unfortunate accident, and that the sad and sorry event, witnessed by many people who were alert and were capable of giving their impressions of the occurrence as it happened, it represented a simple and inadvertent misfortune; his client to be found guilty of nothing more than a momentary lapse resulting in an accident.

The "I didn't know what happened. I must have fallen asleep" admission of Mr. Luangpakham might be appealing under other circumstances, but it is not to be taken seriously once the other details have been filled in.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Loved And Cherished

What do parents do when they suspect their young son or daughter is seriously troubled, so much so that their depression leads them to thoughts of suicide? It's a difficult, painful situation to believe is occurring, one that parents would prefer to believe exists only in their disturbed, over-active imagination, and does not reflect reality.

After all, parents worry too much about their offspring, don't they?

Sometimes, however, it is true; young teens are so fully invested in their emotions driven by hormonal changes that affect both their bodies and their thoughts that events they cannot control and which affect them adversely seem to gain monumental proportions that they simply are unable to deal with. And they don't know where to turn.

And this is particularly true of young people who face the fact that they are 'different' than others. Different in the sense of being alternatively gender-attracted; not to those of the opposite sex, but those of their own. And it is no accident that young people unmercifully teased and aggressively taunted for they difference, scorned by so many, turn to suicide for that final solace.

What they do is daydream about the solutions that miraculously and suddenly present themselves and everything is fine. Only those daydreams don't materialize, after all in solutions, and the agony of the emotional insecurity continues unabated. If they're fortune enough to have good friends they trust, they may relate to them what their problems are.

More likely, they keep their problems to themselves. They may download their anxieties to a written diary or to a Facebook page where they will share their agony, and with that also light-hearted moments, so anyone reading what's there might come away thinking it's normal teen angst and it will be dealt with in the fullness of time when the matter becomes resolved.

Sometimes it never is. And the agonized teen, like 15-year-old Allan Hubley of Kanata turns to a concluding chapter of life, and chooses to shut down the conflict within himself. "I wish I could be happy. I try, I try, I try ... I just want to feel special to someone", he wrote. And then he committed himself to the finality of death, and will no longer have to try.

He was, of course, special. All children are. Their parents love them, cherish them and worry for their futures. Never imagining the impossible nightmare that their child will have no future.

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Surrogacy, Anyone?

People do the strangest things - don't we? Succumbing to desires and whims, we are prepared to take on the oddest things for ourselves. Sometimes with the conviction that in doing these things we are being socially useful, or helpful in some way to others who wish to have something that we already have. If there's really nothing in it for us in the way of material gain, and we're reasonably discreet about it, we're being rather altruistic.

In making some kind of personal sacrifice to assist others.

It's that way with someone who is willing to carry a foetus for someone else. To, at the end of a long period of gestation which certainly causes discomfort and misery to a lot of people, produce a living, breathing child to be raised by someone other than the birth mother. That's the ultimate gift. It's hard to even imagine a woman being willing to undergo a pregnancy not her own, to carry a child to birth that she will not follow as that child grows.

Perhaps there's a deep satisfaction for some women in doing such a thing, but to most women it would represent the most difficult, perplexing, unrealistic situation they might imagine themselves to be involved with. In Canada it is illegal for a surrogate mother carrying someone else's child - even if the egg is hers and the sperm is that of the male of the intended parents, to be paid for the effort. There cannot be material gain.

Expenses incurred relating to the pregnancy may be collected from the prospective parents, but that's about it, although there is a fuzzy grey area about what constitutes expenses and how much in the way of expenses could be recognized in terms of material value or dollar amounts. Imagine, a young woman who already has two natural-birthed children of her own yet in their infancy, agreeing to carry twins for another couple unable to conceive on their own.

She is Canadian, a surrogate living in Bathurst, New Brunswick, and the intended parents live in Hertfordshire, England. The couple from England visited the New Brunswick woman. The woman of the pair was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a genetic disease that affects childbearing-aged women, resulting in infertility. They signed a contract of intent, and agreed to pay the surrogate $200 monthly to cover expenses.

They kept in constant communication on a daily basis to update themselves on the proceedings. And then, when the surrogate mother was being monitored overnight in hospital after an ultrasound revealed she was at risk of going into early labour at 27 weeks' gestation, as she was text-messaging her condition for the British couple, they cancelled the agreement.

The woman advised the advocate to "break it all off ... I'm not physically or mentally able to take care of another person right now." The couple had separated.

And surrogate Cathleen Hachey was left holding, in effect, two babies. The contracting couple changed their telephone numbers, deleted the surrogate from their social media contacts, and they were never heard from again. The resulting girl and boy babies eventually did end up in the hands of another couple anxious to adopt children for themselves.

And Cathleen Hachey had no assistance in finding them; she was on her own. Lawyers and surrogacy agencies informed her: "They are your biological children so they are your biological problem. Admittedly, this was a highly unusual situation.

But it does illustrate the polarities of peoples' aspirations and the perceived and actual level of their ethical commitments.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Perceive, And It Is So

Well, there's a surprise. Kind of. That new national survey on how Canadians feel toward various groups within society? Predictable, actually. Because most people, even if they aren't ardent newspaper-readers, or listen to their radios, do glue their attention to spectacular television (or computer-news) coverage of occasional Islamist-inspired and -conducted assaults of a very bloodily vicious nature against symbols of the West, or even against their own.

Might it be called surprising, then that the Association for Canadian Studies found a mere 43% of those interviewed held a "very positive", or "somewhat positive" perception of Muslims? The results were enhanced, understandably for atheists who received a 60% 'approval' rating, and aboriginals, at 61% (we're more willing to forgive the occasional violent aboriginal-warrior-outbreak of frustrated thuggery than we are Islamist atrocities, isn't that amazing?).

And, going on from there, the Chinese-originated among us are seen very positively, relatively speaking at 75% approval, then Protestants, Blacks and Hispanics/Latin Americans who all rated at 74%, Catholics following close behind at 73%, and Jews penultimate at 72%, with francophones coming up with 70% (guess it's all that grousing and complaining about no one noticing how exceptionally linguistic they are).

Most of those surveyed had a positive response to "immigrants", at 68%. Leger Marketing did the on-line survey. And the executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies remarked that the survey results with respect to the public apprehension of Muslims is fairly well matched by similar results polled in both Britain and the United States.
"Most of these perceptions are built around images that people see globally", said Jack Jedwab.
Yep, news travels at whiz-bang speed, we tweet along like nosy, noisy flocks of birds keeping ourselves informed.

Other Western nations, it appears have come up with similar public findings which "suggests this isn't a Canadian-specific issue ... I'm not saying we shouldn't have programs" and policies in Canada to improve general perceptions of Muslims, "but the impact of those programs is limited if we don't have global co-operation".

Precisely, and wouldn't it seem to make good sense if Muslims themselves made a concerted, wholesale breakthrough in fully condemning the violent jihadists that have been making their own lives miserable, as well as ours? Wouldn't it seem sensible of the Islamic community worldwide (the ummah) to make it firmly and determinedly their business to decry and defy the violence done in the name of Islam?

Mightn't that lead to an improved perception of Muslims? Speaking of which, if any kind of program were to be undertaken to impress and educate the public, perhaps one which differentiates between the moderate Muslims living among us, the Ismaili and the Ahmadiyya living among us who do great credit to the view of Islam as a religion of peace and harmony?

The survey also picked up the public perception lingering in the wake of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in the U.S., demonstrating that a majority of Canadians feel that the perceived conflict between Western countries and the Muslim world is 'irreconcilable'. In other words, we're painting with a broad stroke, but it's hardly surprising, given the seeming lethargy of the Muslim community in responding to the atrocities committed by their religious brethren.

Resulting in a rather pallid 33% of the population holding out hope that the conflict will eventually fizzle out and simply become a sad footnote in history.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Vulnerable Pets of Vulnerable People

As pet owners - an extremely large community - there is the indelible impression that veterinary medicine and its practitioners have a very good thing going for them. People love their pets, and as long as they can afford ongoing and fairly fundamental medical-health services for their animal companions they will continue to pay what for many appears to be a stiff price.

There is nothing particularly modest nor 'affordable' of many veterinarian services; even routine ones are expensive. On the other hand, most people want to ensure that their valued pets are well looked after and that means that their annual shots and medications are looked after.

Let alone matters that invariably crop up throughout the course of a year. And we won't even mention those times that rate as emergencies when we have to rush a suffering animal to emergency care - and pay, literally, through the bank account for needed ameliorative care.

Veterinarians are right up there, with human medical practitioners, particularly those in specialized fields of medicine - and lawyers, and bankers and chartered accountants. Making big money and being highly respected in the field of professional services. But what happens when people who love their pets and would like to ensure they're medically treated can't pay?

The option is always there to take out pet health insurance. It's not cheap and it doesn't cover everything. And many people have discovered - aside from reading Consumers Reports that lists it as not at all a good deal - that insurance doesn't live up to its public relations. Call upon it for an expensive surgery for your pet after having paid into the plan for a decade, and discover you're no longer a favoured client.

There's a story in the news today about a non-profit group founded by Ottawa veterinarian Michelle Lem, representing some 20 local veterinarians who have formed a kind of syndicate, a charitable one, benefiting local pet owners who are homeless or otherwise severely financially constrained whose pets face severe medical emergencies. "We treat them on a case-by-case basis ... A lot of the surgeries are cost-prohibitive."

The Community Veterinary Outreach group is a public-service oriented charity, holding about one clinic a month at the Ottawa Mission. They accept referrals from other local shelters, from community health centres and mental health organizations. Ms. Lem alone has volunteered her professional time and services for the past 8 years: "It has been very rewarding. I think this is why I became a veterinarian."

She estimates that outreach volunteers have taken the time and trouble to use their professional expertise to examine, treat and vaccinate over 1,200 animals during the past eight years of the group's existence. She emphasizes her belief, given her experience, that a pet represents all too often a primary source of companionship and social support for people living on the street.

"In my experience, these dogs are well looked after. I've seen hundreds of animals since I started doing this, and I've never seen an animal that was outside the realm of what I'd normally see in the clinic." This outreach program has assisted the vulnerable who are homeless to maintain their relationship with another vulnerable group; their homeless pets.

Society often is indebted in ways not always known to them, to those among us who reach out to others in need. In this valuable instance, it is a small group of veterinarians who obviously feel a responsibility to those vulnerable pets of vulnerable people.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

"Into A Human Torch"

Karim, a student, said: "It was a vision of the apocalypse. It seemed totally strange and unreal. I saw a body on fire going forward with her hands on her head. Several of us tried to put it out. She kept saying, 'No, leave me, I don't need your help. God told me to do this.' The teachers put a sheet over her because her clothes had melted."
Some parts of rural France, as elsewhere in the country, have changed markedly from the original indigenous population with its traditions and culture and social contract, to one undergoing a massive change with the introduction of immigrants from former French colonies in Africa. The prevailing culture has had to adapt itself to a changing social environment.

One which has not exactly been enriched by the introduction of crime, drugs, unemployment and poverty. And children, raised within their families in a manner quite different than that the French have long been accustomed to. Children appear freer to express themselves, rather than exhibit the respect due to status and age reflecting French tradition.

The result is unruly classrooms, where discipline has become an ongoing problem. Some teachers appear capable of dealing with the new reality, others appear not to be able to. One such teacher for whom control of her classroom became a menace to her health and an affront to the parents of young people whom she was tasked to teach, but whom she ignored if they did not comply, set herself afire.

She is a 44-year-old math teacher, teaching at Jean Moulin Lycee in Beziers, southern France. With a personal history of depression it is likely she should have been in another profession rather than teaching young rebellious teen-age students. Another teacher described her act as one "of someone who was desperate"; she had suffered a nervous breakdown the year before.

"It happened during the break. I heard the pupils shouting and I saw someone running across the playground transformed into a human torch", said one of her colleagues. She had poured gas over herself and screamed at the students, out in the courtyard at classroom break: "This is for you", and then lit herself afire.

The local newspaper quoted colleagues in describing this teacher as an "old-fashioned type of teacher", a strict disciplinarian who often excluded difficult students. Her teaching methods resulted in classroom conflict, and although she met with the students nothing was resolved, the meeting ended in chaos.

Chaos more than adequately describes this poor woman's life. It is abundantly clear that once she is physically healed she should be searching for another profession to possibly give her some satisfaction in life.

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Bereaved Mothers

Life and the absence of the spirit of life suddenly removed is no negligible matter. It represents tragedy wherever it occurs and no matter whom it takes. Sudden deaths occur among the young for all manner of reasons, most of them unexpected, all of them tragic. But it is particularly tragic when two young, vibrant women barely removed from girlhood lose their lives. And their mothers lose their beloved daughters.

Both Jessica Godin 18, and Valerie Leblanc, also 18, lost their lives to gruesome misadventure. Jessica Godin happened to be walking alone along a rural road late at night, in the dark, along a road that saw steady traffic, but also was used as a walking route by residents taking the air of summer evenings. She was the victim of a hit-and-run, struck, her body tossed by the impact into a ditch, hidden and not discovered until the following day.

Valerie Leblanc was a young student attending the CEGEP de l'Outaouais Gabrielle-Roy campus. It was her ill fortune to be found on August 23 close to the campus in a wooded area, dead of severe head trauma, her body burned. A group of young people walking in the area had come across her body, at first believing it to be other than a human body. One of that group has come under suspicion of performing an indignity to a human body by setting her on fire.

He (or she) is not suspected of having been the individual (or several individuals) responsible for the beating death of the young woman. Valerie Leblanc's mother Julie Charron, has issued a public plea for anyone with any kind of knowledge, however remotely connected to the scene, to come forward to assist police in solving the mystery of her daughter's dreadful murder.
"Someone, somewhere, knows who he is, where he lives. If everyone helps us, we will find this person."
The person she would far prefer to find is her daughter, intact. And that is not to be. Perhaps she feels that her daughter may rest in peace and her own mind will find peace, if the one who murdered her in the blush of the spring of her life is brought to justice.
"The past weeks have been very difficult for Valerie's family and friends. The 23rd of August will be carved forever in our memory. That's the day when someone took the life of my daughter, my little Valerie, my ray of sunshine, for no reason."
Jessica Godin, whose life came to an end as she walked in the hamlet of Fournier on September 24, died much too soon, too early in life, an assault on the sensibilities of anyone who rails against the unfairness of Dame Fortune who looked the other way when someone carelessly drives his vehicle into the frail frame of a young woman out for an evening stroll.

Her mother, Nathalie Godin has appealed to anyone who might have some information to step forward.
"You know, we can only hope that whoever did this grows a conscience and comes forward. Somebody out there knows something. That's all I can hope for right now."
Jessica was hurled by the impact of a vehicle striking her from behind, into a deep ditch. This was a road where vehicles came by, perhaps every five minutes. A road where people normally walk alongside it for recreational purposes. It is also a road that does not lead to anywhere but the residential places along it. It is a road upon which people drive when they have a purpose; to reach their places of residence.

Someone who lives in the neighbourhood was driving too fast, too carelessly given the nature of the road and how it has been traditionally used, and hit a young woman. And left her there without making any attempt to ascertain the extent of her injuries, to offer help, to take responsibility for her well-being. Someone decided he/she would far prefer to remain anonymous and uninvolved rather than admit they had a human obligation.

Two mothers await answers to questions that no one but those involved can answer. Those two mothers know that nothing will ease their anguish. They simply would like the nightmare to end.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Suffer the Cyclists Among Us

The driver of the van who on a lovely July morning struck five cyclists is seeing his trial come to a conclusion. All of the cyclists whom he struck with his van, veering directly toward the bicycle lane, making no attempt to steer away, and hitting them one after the one, have miraculously survived. One suffered such severe neurological damage he is now unable to move without the aid of a walker. The others, horribly injured, will never surmount the trauma they suffered, although they survived the carnage.

OPP constables have testified that Sommit Luangpakham's breath betrayed that he had been drinking. It was a stale, recognizable odour to the law professional, who identified it as representing someone who had imbibed some hours earlier, before the occurrence of the dreadful accident.

When Mr. Luangpakham was charged, impaired driving was not among the charges. It was explained that because there were no signs of physical impairment a Breathalyzer test could not be demanded. His balance was normal, speech good, eyes normal and he seemed to experience no problems in locomotion.

"There were runners, there were bicycle parts, there were helmets, there were water bottles, there were bicycles, and as I found out, there were people", explained Ottawa bylaw officer Brenda Girault who happened to be one of the first people to come across the scene of the crash. "I thought I had come across a mock disaster scene at first."

Ms. Girault immediately began an assessment of the condition of those bodies scattered everywhere. The cyclists were spread over a 72-metre area from the impact they had suffered.
Four of those cyclists, (Robert Wein, Rob Harland, Mark White, Hilary McNamee and Cathy Anderson), were taken to hospital in critical, life-threatening condition. One was airlifted by helicopter.

"One gentleman was lying on his stomach but he was twisted really funny, like not normal for a body, and there was blood coming out of his mouth", while another lay against the curb with a "massive" pool of blood forming about his head", testified Ms. Girault.

Only yesterday, in downtown Ottawa, a 33-year-old woman cyclist met her death on Queen Street. A parked car door opened just as she was cycling past, knocking her from her bicycle, where she was run over by another vehicle. Passersby desperately lifted the vehicle from the body of Danielle Nacu, and though she was still breathing in a laboured manner, by the time paramedics arrived her vital signs were absent.

And on Sunday in Mississippi Mills, a 60-year-old man was charged with careless driving after he collided with two cyclists. The 51-year-old man and 50-year-old woman cyclists were riding on a side road when they were struck. Both were taken to Carleton Place Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Their bicycles were heavily damaged.

The vulnerability of cyclists. The horrendous lack of responsibility among motorists.

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Punishment Fitting The Crime?

It never ceases to amaze, confound and sicken to realize the depths of depravity that too many living among us are capable of descending to. Newspapers are replete with the moral downfall of too many to recount.

On a scale from one to ten, however, most illicit and societally-adverse events are fairly run-of-the-mill types of encounters with the law, representing lapses in judgement that can be forgiven. Sometimes, however, an event can be so bone-chillingly evil that it haunts one's sensibilities.

A man who has recounted that on the date he committed the most unforgivable act possible for a human being, to the extent he forfeits entirely his humanity, admitted he had consumed nine bottles of beer, smoked marijuana, and 'probably' consumed cocaine, before turning to his spouse requesting sex, which she refused.

After midnight, the man left his house in the company of a knife, carrying with him two bottles of beer, and in his words looking for "a party". The knife, he had explained to police, always accompanied him when he was out on the streets, prowling to acquire cocaine.

This man, 20 years of age at the time, living in Cornwall, Ontario, walked through the neighbourhood and eventually stood before a house that he recalled being at in the past where a woman he had experienced a previous relationship with lived. It occurred to him to surprise that woman.

He silently entered the home, removed his shoes and made his way to the second floor, where he knew a bedroom was located. And he assumed that he would find in the bed in that bedroom the woman for whom he was looking.

Shane Haley informed police he was intoxicated to the extent that he simply could not recall from memory whether it was the five-year-old child whom he encountered in the bed screaming or that he was startled to find the little girl rather than her mother, that set off the sequence of events that found him on trial.

His reaction was to slash the little girl's throat "virtually from ear to ear", three times. Then he proceeded to stab the child nine times in the chest with his seven-inch blade. That was the knife that guaranteed his safety when he was out and about on dark street corners accosting cocaine vendors.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the 2008 death of Alissa Martin-Travers. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 years. Is that long enough for murdering a child? One psychopath imprisoned at taxpayers' expense to remove him from the streets for 18 years, representing society's punishment for taking a precious life?

Alissa's mother and the child's other relatives listened with anguished pain as the description of the slaughter of their little girl was aired in court.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Absurd Conundrum

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There are laws for security and protection of society and there are laws for the security and protection of the environment, including those protecting wild animals from being taken from their natural environment and kept as pets. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources does license those who qualify, to establish wildlife rescue centres, people dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of wild animals who are found ill or orphaned.

Sometimes fully successful and appropriately licensed wildlife care and rescue centres come afoul of the Ministry and they are brought up short. Not for any actions on their behalf that are outside their rescue-healing mandate, necessarily, but for reasons that are interpreted as coming afoul of the ministry's guidelines.

A very needed and useful community resource, the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre closed its doors after years of very professional services to the community, taking in wounded and rescued wild animals, treating them back to health with the able assistance of veterinarians and volunteers, and returning them back to their natural home environment.

They decided to close their doors out of a sense of fatigue and frustration at the difficulty of the tasks involved in taking in animals, adapting the Centre to their needs, rehabilitating them, and freeing them back to nature, all the while having to battle the bureaucrats at the Ministry of Natural Resources who, in doing their jobs, made the rescue group's job impossible.

And here's another instance where yet another rescue group, the Constance Creek Wildlife Refuge, operated by Lynne Rowe out of her Dunrobin home, has been served with a court summons for unlawfully maintaining wildlife in 'captivity'. It's well to remember that what the rescuer considers a temporary home for an injured animal is interpreted as 'captivity' by the ministry.

Ms. Rowe's problem was that she had no license approving her operation. She also rescues abused and unwanted domestic pets. And she fairly recently opened her facilities and her caring heart to the needs of wild animals whom people discover in distress and bring to her. Reason Ms. Rowe had no license for the operation of her facility?

Good question. She has been hard at work for two years on the creation of her Constance Creek Wildlife Refuge, taking training courses on the care of wild animals, and building appropriate housing for them, funded partially by a grant, and partially through her own personal finances. She worked hard to meet the parameters of the standards required to succeed in obtaining a license.

In fact, she applied for that license over three months earlier. At the time she was informed that in two weeks' time she'd have that license in hand. She had been inundated by calls from desperate people who had nowhere to take orphaned or injured squirrels, raccoons, fawns. She desperately wanted that license, but it simply did not materialize.

As things stand at the present time, she is still awaiting receipt of that license. The four MNR officers who appeared, unannounced, to search her property earlier in the week, took away two young raccoons she had been treating. And she was summonsed to appear in court to face a charge of unlawfully keeping wildlife in captivity without a license.
"Two years of hard work could be wasted. The irony is that there is a huge need for animal rescue", she said.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Long May He Live

Finally, and at long last the search for an African leader who could be held up as a paragon of virtue, a national politician of integrity who has the best interests of his country and its population top of mind, has closure. It took several years in a desperate attempt to identify one such leader of whom Africa could be proud, and who could present as a template to the rest of the continent, beset by dictators, tyrants, autocrats, and oppressors.

Now, two years after it was established, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation committee has finally settled on a winner; former Cape Verde president Pedro Pires. Mr. Pires, now 77 years of age, acted in the best interests of his Atlantic Ocean Cape Verde Islands; seeking nothing for himself personally. Under his careful administration his nation grew its gross domestic product at 6% yearly, and per-capita incomes rose by 181%, life expectancy reached 70 years of age, a literacy rate of 80% was achieved.

The search committee for the $5-million prize looked assiduously for a candidate and found one in Mr. Pires. They assessed African states to assess their records with respect to criteria such as rule of law, safety, human rights, social participation, sustainable economics and human development. Under those parameters, Cape Verde came second in Africa after Mauritius, ahead of Botswana, the Seychelles and South Africa.

"President Pires presided over the transition from a single-party state to a multi-party state and stepped down at the end of his second term", explained Salim Ahmed Salim, the chief of the prize committee. Tellingly, the modest Mr. Pires was both surprised and bewildered at having been singled out, when as far as he was obviously concerned, he was doing what he must, for his country.

If the foundation, established by Sudanese-born philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, hopes that this kind of example will inspire other African leaders, he may not have considered deeply enough. For the fact is, leaders like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe would laugh off a $5-million prize; they are able to embezzle far more than that kind of pocket money, milking their government treasury and monetary assistance received from the international community.

Mr. Pires, along with the $5-million he is now being gifted with in recognition of his superior morality and administrative skills, also will stand to receive $200,000 a year for the rest of his life. At 77 years of age, that may not be too much longer; on the other hand - long may he live.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Post-Traumatic Issues

Craig Pottie of Truro, Nova Scotia is fighting mad. He's a natural-born fighting man, so that's not surprising. He served eight years in the Canadian military, after all. From 1988 through to 1995 Mr. Pottie was a member of the Canadian air force. Something obviously went askew, since he served most of his time in the military as a clerk on a naval vessel.

He is, nonetheless, obviously battle-scarred.

To the extent that he suffers from a variety of mental health issues. He has been receiving psychiatric treatment since 2002 every few weeks over in Halifax. Counselling and treatment for anxiety and panic issues. Throw in post-traumatic stress disorder, a result of his eight years of service in the Canadian Forces. A clerk, on a naval vessel.

For six years he's been travelling from Truro to Halifax to see his psychiatrist. Veterans Affairs paying for the services received, as they are tasked to do. And his travel costs that amounted to roughly $180 monthly to cover taxi costs between Truro and Halifax were paid. But guidelines inform that government would discontinue covering travel costs.

Travel costs are ordinarily reimbursed for attending treatment available normally within a resident's immediate, or closest geographic area. Mr. Pottie was given a one-year notice of the change in his coverage. The policy of government has always been to reimburse veterans for travel to the appropriate treatment centre nearest to their residence.

So here's the issue in a nutshell. Mr. Pottie feels entitled to travel 45 minutes distance from Truro to Halifax in a taxi. He feels entitled to having Veterans Affairs pay for that travel. Without that reimbursement of costs he insists he can no longer obtain the psychiatric treatment that presents as a "lifeline".

Veterans Affairs pays the freight for professional treatment for veterans. They have a policy that the treatment be obtained in the more immediate area, closer to where the veteran actually resides, in Truro, for example. The issue here is not whether the treatment itself will continue to be paid for, but whether treatment plus travel costs will be paid for.
"My life since (treatments stopped), by the week, day and month, continues to get worse to the point where I'm pretty much housebound ... and now I can't go see the one person who was the lifeline I had."
That sounds pretty serious, poor man. What is stopping him for pursuing his trips to Halifax on his own dime, using public transit? Not possible, sadly.

He has 'issues' dealing with large crowds.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Should We Or Shouldn't We?

"The teacher is the person who knows their students - who knows what's appropriate at that particular age level, for that particular class, at that particular time. The autonomous professional has to be the one to decide what's taught." Susan Lambert, B.C. Teachers' Federation
Who can argue, convincingly, that it makes great good sense to burden really young children with concepts they are unprepared for and have no real need to know about until such time as they themselves broach the topic? Who decides what is age-appropriate? Parents, children's legal guardians or the state, in the persona of the local board of education? Parents submit to the state's purpose in teaching their children basic literacy and numeracy, history, science, social studies.

When social studies begin to intrude on parents' choices in either shielding their children from age-inappropriate confusion resulting from introductions to topics that are complex and require guidance, then parents have a legitimate concern. Sex education taught in a calm manner, in a
non-embarrassing venue by a skilled communicator at an age-appropriate time is or should be acceptable to any parent, even the squeamishly prudish.

It's when children have entered their teen years that it would seem to be an appropriate time to teach, through the medium of a health class, how the human reproductive system works. Naming names and discussing social mores. In normal families children observe anatomical differences between their parents and they gradually, over time, have information transferred to them from their parents.

Curricula in more present times when the print media, television programs and Internet sites all pose graphic sex through innuendo and display, have to be pre-emptive in a sense, introducing children at a younger age to gender differences and normative sexual relations, but yet still all in good and appropriate settings and time. Does a grade three student really benefit from introduction to 'inclusiveness' in gender roles that are outside the mainstream?

Should a grade 5 student be exposed to discussions about emotional stresses related to puberty, their changing bodies, feelings, personal desires, cultural teaching and practises? Or should these nuanced details come from the family home? Perhaps a scaled-down version might be age-appropriate with a skilled interlocutor in the school system, posing a more generalized version.

Gender stereotyping and a classroom teacher speaking of "erections, wet dreams and vaginal lubrication as normal events that occur as a result of physical alterations resulting from puberty" is a very delicate area of discussion. I know from my own personal experience as a grandmother that my granddaughter, in grade 6 was upset and aggrieved that this kind of information was thrust at her and her classmates. She felt put upon and said she thought it should be taught in grade 8, no sooner.

Students in grades 7 and 8 being exposed to the need to put off having sex until a later, more mature time that is more age-appropriate is again a delicate topic to broach with teens. Very embarrassing, and certain to make boys and girls feel self-aware and awkward. It would take quite the skillful educator and communicator to make that connection easefully and without emotional discomfort to students.
"Basically what lessons on sexuality do is communicate to children that they should question their identity and be less certain about who they are. I don't think it's the school's job to do that. Imagine you're Jewish and your child comes home with a cross and says, 'But Dad, we mustn't be anti-Christian'. That's no different than a Christian parent being uncomfortable with homosexuality, and then their son coming home with a pink shirt." Professor Frank Furedi, professor of sociology, University of Kent, Britain: author of Paranoid Parenting and Wasted: Why education Isn't Educating
The Toronto District School Board has produced a document based on anti-homophobia curriculum resource guides, intended to help combat harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity and to create safer, more inclusive schools under the Ontario Human Rights code and the 1998 Keeping our Kids Safe at School Act. The document recommends an educational display and mentioning of contributions of LGBTQ community members during daily morning announcements for teens.

For students in Kindergarten to grade 3 there is a book, Gloria goes to Gay Pride, and students are asked to make posters for the TDSB float for the Pride Parade; students may host their own Pride Parade. In grades 4 to 6 students may be shown images from LGBTQ publications, and may discuss case studies about a young woman who is persecuted by her peers for joining an anti-sexism club.

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